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More Dressage Performances

Problems with Dressage Performances 1

It is understandable that non-classical forms of movements appear in the show ring. There are substantial pressures on riders to do what is expedient during a test. Whatever the reasons a test movement may depart from classical form, we need not take these moments as correct, but understand their context and return to classical form as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, even the veterinary literature has reinforced non-classical forms of movements. If international champions are rewarded for non-classical piaffe, passage and canter, how are people to know what is the preferred classical form? Or understand that classical riding seeks to improve balance and coordination. As Classical Masters wrote more than two hundred years ago,

La Guériniérè says in École de Cavalerie (1769 edition, my translation of his text):
All sciences and arts have principles and rules, by means of which one makes discoveries leading to their improvement [perfection]. Horsemanship is the one art for which it seems one needs only practice. However, practice without true principles [as a guide] is nothing but routine, the fruit of which is a strained and uncertain performance, a false diamond which dazzles demi-connoisseurs who are more often impressed by the accomplishments of the horse than by the skills of the horseman. From this comes the reason for the small number of well-trained horses, and the lack of ability one sees at present in the majority of those who style themselves horsemen.

This shortage of principles renders students unable to tell error from perfection. They have no other option but imitation; and sadly it is easier to descend into bad practices than it is [to devise, to learn] good ones. Some, desiring to imitate those who would draw [remove, extract] from a horse all its virtuosity, fall into the error of [maintaining] the hands and legs in continual movement, which offends the tact [grace, skill] of the rider, causes contact with the mouth to be false and results in uncertain gaits.

And from another 18th century master, Dupaty de Clam, in his Pratique de l’équitation ou l’art de l’équitation réduit en principes we have:

Geometry, anatomy and mechanics give us the first rules of horsemanship. Nobody in his right mind can doubt their validity. It is much wiser to take the known sciences as a guide, rather than merely following one’s whims.


All the skillful riders ... claim that [a circle] is a means of giving a beautiful posture to a horse. Others think horses are prone to [lose balance, collection] while working on the circles .... I never thought that the figures granted [collection] to the horses: I believe that the aids are enough, and that if different figures are formed, it is rather for approval. ... thus, by holding the horse on the circle with true aids, obeying hands and legs, the horse cannot spoil itself ... the aids, following one another unceasingly for execution [of an exercise], endow the horse with accuracy and flexibility. The greatest difficulty is not to form the figure, but to form it with true aids [with] the horse maintained in a good position. (my translation)

The classical form has a biomechanical logic of balance, as the illustrations on this page indicate. For piaffe, which is related more to the walk in terms of the phasing of the diagonal pair (not all diagonal pairs belong to the trot!!!), the horse should be balanced, hind legs under inside hip in braking phase, foreleg at mid-stance support and taking weight simultaneously with the diagonal foreleg. This moment does not appear in the pure dressage trot, where phasing of legs in braking, mid-stance and propulsion is parallel.

Piaffe, related to diagonal moment of collected walk: tail is quiet and he is on a given rein in self-carriage in place. Raynyday Maximillian Piaffe pirouette, related to diagonal moment of collected walk. Tail reflects swing of back and elastic quality of movement. Raynyday Maximillian
Classical piaffe, La Gueriniere. Horse shows more lowering of croup than more recent practice of classical piaffe. Forehand is supported by leg at mid-stance so horse may remain in place and hind legs step evenly with equal bending in joints of hind quarters. Spanish Riding School, Classical piaffe on given curb rein with immaculate timing & phasing of diagonal pair. Hind hoofs remain in place as the horse <<apparently>> takes more weight behind (see position of fetlocks of diagonal pair). Tail reflects swing of back and elastic quality of movement.
Base narrow piaffe, wringing tail. Timing of diagonal pair suspect, as left knee is bent, leg not taking weight at the same time as the right hind. Famous rider and horse...
Base narrow and croPiaffe, Denoix text. Dynamics correct, but form is base narrow and unbalanced ("goat on a mountain") croup high piaffe. Wringing tail.
Piaffe, base narrow, switching tail, croup high and leaning on curb rein. Stiff left hind because of unequal bending of joints in the hind quarters shifts foot too far forward. Piaffe probably not in place.
Correct dressage canter of a green horse. Outside hind ahead of vertical tail, good separation of hind legs just after time two (diagonal pair) of canter. Rosita Del Rio (Azteca) with Jenn Grant in the saddle. Cedar Lane Farm
RIGHT --------->>>
Probably a strung-out flying change from a series where the horse is starting to fall behind the phasing of the canter. In a balanced canter stride, the outside hind lands (time one) under the outside hip and is at mid-stance by the time the diagonal pair lands, beginning an effective propulsive stroke.

Rider seems to be trying to move the head to the inside so the change is not blocked by the inside shoulder.